In 2016 the NSR’s Northeast Passage was only open to traffic for around two weeks
Despite winter sea ice in the Arctic Sea falling to a record smallest area during 2016, the bunker saving Northern Sea Route's (NSR's) Northeast Passage saw its "shortest traversable period in recent years," according to data from the Global Ice Center of Weathernews Inc. (Weathernews).
"Sea ice continued to shrink due to warm Arctic pattern, leaving only 13.96 million km2 of ice in February," said Weathernews.
"It also reached 4.14 million km2 in September, reaching the second lowest yearly minimum in the record."
sea ice remained in the Laptev Sea, a key area to open the sea route, shortening the period in which ships could traverse the passage
Reduced ice coverage in recent years has lead to increased interest in sending ships through the Arctic as it makes for significantly shorter voyages compared to traditional routes through the Suez Canal, leading to time and bunker savings.
But despite the record low ice coverage, the NSR's Northeast Passage was only open to traffic for around two weeks from September 24th to October 7th.
"The reason for this is the sea ice remained in the Laptev Sea, a key area to open the sea route, shortening the period in which ships could traverse the passage without entering areas affected by sea ice," said Weathernews.
The Northwest Passage on the Canadian side, meanwhile, was open for three weeks from August 19th through September 10th.
Weathernews' latest data will presumably do little to change the view that large scale commercial use of Arctic routes - along with the corresponding bunkering opportunities - is generally considered to be a long way off.